Friday, October 27, 2023

Castlevania: Rondo of Blood (PC Engine, 1993)


The last 2D Castlevania game that I never had a chance to play until now. It was trapped on the island of PC Engine (Turbografx-16) for a long time. Now it has a PS4 version so I can give it a whirl, though I'm still counting it as a TG16 game. It got (sort of) ported to the SNES as Castlevania Dracula X which I did cover on here long ago. That port is known for being a somewhat different game, and fairly deficient compared to this original version. Now I get to finally see what the fuss is about.

It's also worth noting that this game is the immediate predecessor to Symphony of the Night. In a weird way, this is basically "Castlevania 5" in everything except name. I can understand dropping the number though, especially considering how the third and fourth games in the series were chronologically out of whack already (aka a prequel and a remake respectively).

My character for this one is Richter Cockburn Belmont. A lot of people don't know about his middle name. Already the game is whacking me in the face with lovely-breasted statues. It's like I'm back in Europe. So we're off to a good start here.

Richter suits up for battle! He's rugged and tough, as a Cockburn should be.

To try and get this straight, the chronology of the story goes Trevor->Simon->Richter. TSR, like the tabletop company. Trevor is our guy in Castlevania 3 (the prequel). Simon is the next Belmont (in games 1/2/4), and then we get Richter. There seem to be several generations between each of the major Belmonts, and Richter's games take place several hundred years after Trevor's.

There are a lot of other side characters, and even some Belmonts, that you play as in the later 'Vanias. This is a series I never paid enough attention to until now, so I didn't realize how deep the lore actually is. What it comes down to is that Dracula is reviving on a 100 year cycle to declare war on humans, only to be stopped by a Belmont each time. Trevor, Simon, and Richter are the last three.

However, this is the last cycle, and it'll take Dracula's own son Alucard to put him down for good. This means that Rondo/Symphony are the end of the 100 year cycle and Dracula's actual war against the humans. Any later games chronologically aren't part of the 100 year cycle, they're Dracula being summoned by someone to return to the world. So really, this duo of games ends the main series as we know it, and the games beyond this are almost their own thing entirely.

The game starts with a high-speed horse carriage race in pouring rain. Dracula has kidnapped Noted Local Child Maria Renard, as well as Richter's girlfriend(?) Annette. Time is of the essence!

Death (yeah, THE Death) ambushes our hero midway to Drac's castle. It's a brief fight and serves mainly as an intro skirmish. Even this is kinda tough, which doesn't bode well for the difficulty of the game.

The first stage is the village, and it's in flames. There's only one whip in this game, the chain whip. It's appealing to swing, as usual. However it can only swing to the left and right, not up or diagonal, which puts you at a marked disadvantage compared to Castlevania IV.

Dracula-X for the SNES also started with a flaming village. It looked very different from this though. Both games have roughly the same number of stages, the same bosses, and involve rescuing Maria/Annette. However they're very different otherwise. Dracula-X feels like a total remix of this game. They also made the final boss exponentially harder in the SNES version for some reason. In this version the final boss isn't bad at all.

This creepy grinning rock-dude is the next miniboss of sorts. I pelt him with axes. Really becoming a big fan of the axe in these games, and the arc it travels in. If I get a choice, I'll generally keep the axe.

First real boss is a flying dragon. Again, axes win the day. Axes are like Richter's best friend when he can't angle the whip upward.

That was the first level and we're just now going into the actual castle.

There's a giant bull-monster chase here. In the SNES version the bull-chase was in the flaming village, IIRC.

It isn't bad at all, but already I'm having some issues with the fact that you go back to the beginning of a stage if you game over. While normal for the era, it feels punishing now. And I'm only on stage 2 of 7.

This werewolf boss was the third-worst boss in the game for me, behind only Shaft's Ghost and Death himself. He's highly agile and damaging, while Richter is a bit slow. And with the werewolf's small from, the usual hunter tools aren't getting the job done as well as they do with larger opponents. This one took a bunch of tries, which meant repeating Stage 2 every time I ran out of lives. Would have been much easier if I went and got Maria before this, but I hadn't found her yet.

Continuing on, I go into the sewers and find a bunch of Sahagin. Ah, my old nemeses are back!

They kill me...a lot.

"It is our moment! The time of Sahagin domination is upon us!" they yelp.

This looks familiar. Mostly I'm just glad to be out of those sewers. Something particularly cool about this game is that there are alternate versions of the majority of the stages that you can reach by finding an alternate exit of the previous stage. This lets you bypass a stage that's giving you grief by doing the alternate one to reach the next stage. Also you can stage select at any time to go back and revisit un-beaten stages and try them again if you're a completionist.

The first alternate route I found was right here, a breakable wall that leads to...

...this water dragon boss. It's quite rough, like most of this game's fights. Especially for Richter with his limited jumping ability. Defeat it, and you find...

...Maria, the younger sister of Annette.

She is, somewhat surprisingly, the second/other playable character in this game. And she's way more useful than Richter!

She's also in Symphony of the Night, and much older there.

Maria can summon ATTACK CATS that dash along the ground, among other summon spells. These replace Richter's typical hunter tools, and are used the same way. She also has a double jump and a lot more air-mobility than Richter.

Her regular attack consists of firing birds that fly out in a short boomerang pattern. She can launch two at a time, and you need to be strategic with it (don't spam) much like the whip. Oh yeah, and she can attack while running without breaking stride, which is a big upgrade.

Next boss is Emperor Palpatine from Revenge of the Sith.

Here's Alternate Stage 2 which was a blast as Maria.

Once I got Maria, the game felt much more beatable. Before this I was starting to wonder if I'd be able to do it at this point in time without going through the wringer. I'm not the Castlevania III-trouncing spring chicken I was 10-15 years ago.

Stainglass windows herald Maria's arrival in the upper levels of the castle.

Besides being able to summon charging attack cats, she has a few other good attack summons: A bird that zaps outward upwards and diagonally, a turtle shell that makes her invulnerable to almost anything until she takes it off to attack (good for observing boss patterns before actually fighting them), and a dragon (fires a dragon across the screen in a line basically...highly-damaging and my favorite of the attacks)

Minotaur is next. I remember this guy from Dracula-X. One of the cooler looking bosses in the game. This one takes some work to take down, even as Maria. Bosses in this game have a tendency to only get as close as they NEED to to hit you with their attacks. So they won't just wander into your attack range and stand there like most games. This means I had to lure him over to where my attacks would actually reach him while standing on the platforms.

Annnnd another boss, the Headless Horseman. Sans horse. This was the biggest challenge yet (since I got Maria and started rolling things, that is). Luring him over is the main issue, since his attacks reach much further than either player character.

"I'm queen of the world!" says Maria.

The ship level is a good one. Very atmospheric. The double-jump helps a lot with navigating stairs, too. And no longer does "not quite" making a single jump spell doom for you once you have Maria.

The boss here is Death, in a return match from the intro.

Like the SNES version, take him down halfway and he switches to Melee Death, walking around on the platform and swinging his scythe.

Elsewhere, Dracula is menacing Annette. I didn't realize beautiful woman blood was any more thirst-quenching than regular person blood. He's the expert though, I guess.

Stage 6 is odd. It's just a series of boss fights, no actual stage leading up to them. Which is actually much easier. Lose and you just go right back to it. Figure out the fights and git gud and it's probably the least-taxing stage in the game.

First boss is this giant bat. I think this was an early-game boss in Dracula-X. It's practically a tutorial fight.

Much deadlier is this medusa that warps in after the bat is defeated. This thing has some very scary attacks like petrification. However, it can be backed up into a corner and wailed on, which should be done immediately to prevent it from getting any kind of offense going. That's something I haven't noted yet: Bosses in this game can often be pushed back by the player's attacks, which can be advantageous.

Next up is the Mummy. By this point I was really hoping the fight would end soon, but nope. There are some difficult-to-evade bandage-storm attacks here that the turtle shield can help with, but I ended up bringing the dragon instead to blast the last couple of bosses.

Frankenstein's Monster is next. This one, like the others, isn't too bad once you learn his moves. He can make debris fall from the ceiling, which means hiding under the platforms, and every time he jumps he follows it by unleashing an electric bolt that's too fast to dodge unless you predict it and get out of the way.

After all of that, here's Shaft ("Shaft!"), the sorcerer henchman of Dracula. Weird to see Death not getting second-to-top billing, but when it happens, it's usually because of this guy.

This fight isn't really any worse than the others, the problem is just having to do all of them in succession. The good news is, there's a checkpoint right before Shaft, so fall here and you can try again with full life. Once I found this out, I rolled him on the next go. The dragon summon decimates him well enough.

With the boss rush out of the way, I expected the next part to basically just be Dracula. Nope. Stage 7 is an entire large stage and easily the toughest one in the game.

The first part is a collapsing bridge, which seems pretty rough until you realize you can just barrel-roll across it with down+jump.

The second part is the iconic Clock Tower level and it's tough as usual, with bats, harpies, and Medusa Heads just to infuriate people as much as possible. And lots of things attacking from above, which Maria has issues with. Wonder if Richter Cockburn Belmont would have an easier time with this due to the axes.

Behind a locked gate is Annette. Unfortunately she doesn't become playable.


Maria doesn't want to run away from the castle just yet, even though Annette is saved. Nope, gonna stay and take out Vlad. There's also a funny bit where Maria points out that Annette would rather be saved by Richter.

Richter is "fighting on a different side of the castle" I think. Actually, the two level paths could be headcanon for where the other character is at any given time.

Next is the Ghost of Shaft, probably the toughest fight in the game. And having this right at the end of Stage 7 is ROUGH.

He's got not one, but two summonable undead dragon attacks.

I went to Shell Form to observe all his attacks for a bit, then went for the kill. They sure got a lot of mileage out of this Shaft guy.

Make it past that ordeal, and the rest is smooth-sailing. Here's the iconic Dracula stairway, as always. There's a hidden stair that goes up into the ceiling here, but weirdly enough all it has in it are a bunch of point bags.

Dracula. This final battle is also the intro battle of Symphony of the Night which is kind of interesting. Not many direct sequels in this series. I'll get to that game soon enough.

And yeah I have no idea why Maria is so much older in Symphony. Figured it took place a few years later, but now I see that it doesn't. This is an immediate predecessor! HOW DID SHE AGE? Maybe it was just a retcon and we're going off of "she was actually 18 the entire time". AKA The Weinstein Defense.

The fight is much, much, MUCH easier than the Dracula-X version of the fight, which is weird when considering that the rest of this game is harder. This...feels more like an intro boss than a final boss. Which is funny, because it ended up being just that.

His second form is even easier than the first. Main reason this is much easier than Dracula-X is because it, like, actually has a floor. In the SNES version you had to fight on a bunch of pillars over a pit.

I spam dragon summons for a quick win. Pretty anticlimactic after how rough this game was, but I did almost lose this time.

That's it for this one. This was my last unplayed retro 'Vania, so I'm glad I was finally able to do it. Definitely deserved better than being trapped on the TG-16. Don't get me wrong, that was a good system, but hardly anyone had it unfortunately.

Next the Spaceballs escape theme plays in my head while the cast hilariously runs for it.

I imagine Richter's ending is a bit more serious. I found Maria a vastly more fun character though.

To be continued in Symphony of the Night. There, we find out that the castle didn't actually crumble, just the stairway leading to Dracula.

There's one more thing to do to get 100% in this game: Fight Camilla. She's hidden in Stage 4 (regular) and seems to be the #1 missing thing for people going for 100%. If you get stuck at 96%, this is why.

Camilla is the naked lady riding the skull. The lady in the chair is Laura, her lover. In the story that all of this is based on, Laura was a human that Camilla wanted to turn vampire so she could be with her forever, which Laura wasn't okay with, but whatever Camilla did it anyway.

After defeating Camilla (and Laura, weirdly enough, who has like no HP) you fight this second form of Camilla that hops around and also has like no HP.

That...was weird, and felt like an unfinished boss fight.

Check it out for yourself. Weird, weird fight.

That gets me 100% for this game. Also had to rescue a couple more Random Women from the castle.

That's it for this game. It's SO GOOD that it has successfully made me want to take on more of this series. Maybe the entire series! Only the 2D ones though.

Other Castlevania Posts

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